DETROIT — Maybe the Bears didn't deserve a playoff spot given their unimpressive 26-24 victory over the Lions.
But they did their part Sunday.
Unfortunately for them, the Green Bay Packers didn't do theirs later in the afternoon and were upset by the Minnesota Vikings 37-34, leaving coach Lovie Smith's crew without an invitation to the postseason party.
“We realized going into the game that it was out of our hands as far as what happened after our game,” Smith said immediately after the Bears' victory.
“We just needed to take care of what we could control, and that was winning the game. We feel good about being 10-6, and hopefully we get in.”
Because the Bears did not get in, Smith's future in Chicago is in doubt. He has led the Bears to the postseason just once in the past six seasons, and this season's miss was even tougher to swallow after the Bears started at 7-1.
Sunday the Bears got 4 take-aways, all of which gave their offense the ball inside the Lions' 25-yard line, and they still were barely able to survive against a team that finished the season with eight straight losses for a 4-12 record.
The Bears got a gutsy 103-yard rushing performance from Matt Forte, playing on a gimpy right ankle, but they almost allowed the slumping Lions to win for the first time since Nov. 4.
The nail-biting victory temporarily kept their playoff hopes alive — but only for about 3½ hours.
“I don't want to have to answer that,” center Roberto Garza had said of the notion that the Bears would get knocked out of the playoffs after they won.
“Hopefully it all goes our way, but if it doesn't, it was a (heck) of a year. We were able to close it out on a good note.”
With their backs to the wall, the Bears won their final two games against inferior opponents. But, because they had lost five of the previous six games, their fate was not in their own hands.
“We set a goal, and we were able to achieve it,” defensive end Israel Idonije said of the final two games. “That was the focus. Coach talked about going into Arizona and getting the win. That was Step 1. Step 2 was coming here and getting this one.”
But that's where the journey ended.
Even with advantageous field position at Ford Field after they got the ball following take-aways, the Bears' offense scored just 1 touchdown and settled for 3 field goals.
That allowed the Lions to whittle a 20-3 deficit to 26-24 with 7:55 left in the game.
After each team went three-and-out the Bears' offense got the ball with 3:40 remaining and the game and a possible playoff berth hanging in the balance.
An offense that had scored just 2 field goals in the second half needed to run time off the clock or risk giving the comeback Lions a chance to dash their postseason dreams then and there.
“I wasn't worried,” said quarterback Jay Cutler, who was definitely in the minority. “We'd moved the ball well on their defense all game (between the 20-yard lines). We got it out of some deep holes in our own end. I knew we would move the ball.”
Facing a third-and-3, Cutler made what was, at the time, the biggest play of the season. With 3:28 left, he scrambled for 19 yards on third-and-3.
“It was a two-man route, and they covered it up well; they played man,” Cutler said. “I thought (fullback) Evan (Rodriguez) might sneak out of there. But the linebacker covered him up well. I had Brandon (Marshall) on a cross, but they had him covered.
“I had a nice crease back side; the guys blocked it well. Whatever it takes to get a first down at that point.”
Two plays later Matt Forte's 13-yard run allowed the Bears to run out the clock with three kneel-downs.
“We needed all of those,” coach Lovie Smith said of the 4 take-aways, 3 by the defense and 1 on special teams. “With those take-aways, you want to get points on the board, but you need to get touchdowns.”
That was a problem for an offense that moved the ball well at times but not when it got near the red zone.
From the late first quarter through the late third quarter, the offense was presented the ball at the Detroit 24-, 10-, 23- and 13-yard lines.
But it only brought field goal, touchdown, field goal, field goal, leaving a potential 12 points on the field.
“It's disappointing,” Cutler said of the missed opportunities. “I know it's frustrating for the defense to set us up like that and (us) not being able to convert touchdowns. We got the job done; I just wish it would have been a little easier.”
It wasn't nearly as difficult for the Bears as watching the result of the Packers-Vikings game.
Defensive tackle Henry Melton's Packers-Vikings postgame tweet said it all: “Noooooooooooooooo.”
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